Ron DeSantis, an unabashed social conservative and Trump supporter, won a surprise victory in the 2018 race for Governor of Florida. He then surprised his critics once more by surging to a 72 percent approval rating on the strength of his outreach to all segments of Florida's highly diverse population.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Democrats and “progressives” thought they had DeSantis right where they wanted him. Surely, the state with the second highest percentage of residents over 65 would fare poorly in those all-important death metrics trumpeted by the media, especially given DeSantis' emphasis on keeping Florida open for business, including its tourism sector.
But no — actually DeSantis struck a near-perfect balance between sensible precautions to keep Floridians safe, and prudent measures to keep stores and schools open, and unemployment rates low. Meanwhile, blue states, which enacted crippling lockdowns, often suffered higher rates of COVID infection and mortality.
Now, Governor DeSantis has done it again. He has positioned himself as a leader among Republicans, conservatives, and elected officials nationwide by taking on the biggest challenge of our times: “cancel culture” in the form of social media censorship. DeSantis is proposing bold new measures that could breathe new life into our nation's tradition of free speech...and could him make him its greatest champion.
This week, DeSantis proposed sweeping reforms to Florida's (Republican-dominated) legislature, which, if enacted, would penalize social media companies that ban anyone running for public office in the state of Florida from their platforms. In addition, DeSantis wants to levy fines on Big Tech companies that use algorithms to limit access to content based on ideology or political messaging. Lastly, DeSantis argues that Floridians should have the right to opt out of Big Tech's content moderation altogether, so that they get a free and unbiased sense of what other people, across the political spectrum, have to say.
These reforms, if they become law in Florida – a major market, needless to say — could have a revolutionary impact on the debate over censorship. They could upend the current mania in Silicon Valley for silencing conservatives. Coupled with similar measures pending in countries like Poland and Hungary, Florida's bold initiative could make it clear to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and other social media conglomerates that their days of picking winners and losers in our country's political debates are over. Instead of playing the role of Big Brother, they could once again be forced to serve as neutral platforms for free expression. They would become, in effect, public utilities, instead of a public menace.
In proposing these groundbreaking regulations on Big Tech, Governor DeSantis is addressing what for many Republicans and conservatives has become their paramount fear: that they will be stigmatized as “hateful," “extreme" or “dangerous” by woke ideologues and thus be denied the right to participate in public discourse. Worse, conservatives who are thus falsely maligned could even be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or shunned in their communities. In this high-tech age, the stakes in the battle to maintain universal and equal access to popular social media platforms really are this high.
Assuming that DeSantis can succeed in altering the political, legal, reputational, and financial calculus of Big Tech executives, and thus stifle their censorship efforts, he will have won a victory not just for conservatives, but for democracy and the American way. Such a triumph would not be soon forgotten.
2024 is, of course, a long way off. Many Republicans are already on the radar of conservatives as they assess who would make the best standard bearer for the party and the movement in the next presidential election.
Be that as it may, a popular governor of a major state, with a diverse population and a thriving economy, who also took on and vanquished Big Tech, would be in an extremely favorable position to lead the GOP, and the nation.
Perhaps, for that very reason, Ron DeSantis will be next on the chopping block for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google, et al. After all, silencing him might be their only hope of avoiding accountability for the digital reign of terror that they have unleashed.
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.